By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Austin Wiley received a nice ovation when he took the floor in his first-ever college basketball game, but the biggest cheer was saved for the very last second and T.J. Dunans.
Dunans hit the game-winning 3-point shot as time expired to send Auburn past Mercer 76-74 Sunday to the delight of an Auburn Arena crowd and to make Wiley's much-anticipated Auburn debut a success.
The crowd roared and Dunans was hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates after the game-winner from the corner, a catch-and-shoot after Auburn inbounded with just 1.4 seconds remaining.
Wiley, the five-star player and the son of former Auburn stars Vickie Orr and Aubrey Wiley, turned in a solid performance in his debut in front of his parents, scoring nine points, grabbing three rebounds and blocking two shots in 15 minutes.
"I was just trying to get a win, but now that I think about it, it's crazy," Wiley said.
Wiley put Auburn ahead 71-69 with 45 seconds remaining before Mercer retook the lead. No problem. Dunans grabbed the spotlight with the game-winner.
"Oh, yeah, I knew it was going in," Dunans said.
"I'm just building my confidence more. I know I can play. I've been in a slump. It just pushed me over the edge. I know I can go out there and score."
The inbound play wasn't designed for Dunans. It was supposed to go to Danjel Purifoy or Jared Harper. But when that didn't open, Mustapha Heron looked for the tallest player, and there was Dunans along the sideline in front of the Auburn bench.
Dunans was 0-for-the-season from the 3-point arc before hitting two 3-pointers the last time out against Coastal Carolina. Sunday, he hit one, then two and then the game-winner against as time ran out.
"T.J. Dunans is in a really good place," said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. "The path to get there has been challenging."
For Auburn, too. The Tigers played their second consecutive game without suspended Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer and had all of two days to work Wiley into the lineup.
"I can't begin to tell you how tough a week this has been," Pearl said. "And even at the end of this week, I can't tell you what the last couple of days have been like trying to prepare for that team and trying to get Austin ready to play 15 minutes when his teammates have been together for six months and he's been with us for six hours."
Mustapha Heron led Auburn with 21 points, Dunans added 13 and TJ Lang scored 11 as the Tigers improved to 8-2. Ria'n Holland led Mercer with 24 as the Bears fell to 5-6.
Wiley made his debut with 12:55 left in the first half. He promptly got in the box score when he was fouled and hit a free throw.
"At first I was nervous but when the game started flowing I started picking it up and I got comfortable out there," Wiley said.
"His presence," Pearl said, "helped us. And as he continues to learn what to do, obviously, you can see what a special player he is."
Auburn will continue to work Wiley in at the Hall of Fame's Birthday of Basketball even in Ucansville, Conn., this week. Auburn plays Oklahoma on Wednesday and UConn on Friday before opening SEC play against Georgia on Dec. 29 in Auburn Arena.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine